Usually when a marriage breaks down and the parties have children then one person is likely to be the main carer and the other will have contact with the children. The party who is the main carer will usually be paid child maintenance by the other party to help them to house the children and pay for their food, clothes and all other expenses.
If it is possible to reach an agreement with your spouse in relation to child maintenance then this agreement can be set out within a Consent Order which is legally binding on both parties once it is sealed by the Court. The agreement can set out how much is paid (usually on a monthly basis) and for how long.
Child maintenance is usually paid, under a Court Order, until a child is 18 or leaves full time secondary education whichever is the later. If there is more than one child then the maintenance may be shown as an amount per child or as a global figure and if it is the latter then this will reduce when the eldest child leave school or reaches 18 years old. The agreement can also show an increase in the level of maintenance usually in proportion to an increase in the Retail Prices Index or in proportion to any increase in the paying party's income.
A Court within a divorce can only involve itself in child maintenance if this has been agreed between the parties and placed within a Consent Order.
If maintenance is not agreed then this cannot be dealt with by the Court and one or other of the parties would need to make an application to the Child Maintenance Service. Child maintenance was formally dealt with by the Child Support Agency or CSA and that organisation still handles cases started before January 2014 but for all new cases the new organisation is the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
If there is a Court Order already in existence which includes an Order for child maintenance and, for some reason, one party no longer feels that this part of the Order properly reflects the level of maintenance which should be paid then it is possible for one party to give notice to the other that they intend to apply to the Child Maintenance Service. However this notice can only be given once the Order for Child Maintenance has been in place for a minimum of one year.
Once the Child Maintenance Service make an assessment then the clauses in the original Court Order dealing with child maintenance become null and void and the jurisdiction moves to the CMS. The remainder of the Court Order is still valid and enforceable through the Court.
When applying for Child maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) as a general rule (with some exceptions) the paying party has to live within the UK.
The party applying for child maintenance provides details to the CMS in relation to the children of the family and also in relation to the party who is liable to pay. The CMS will contact the party with liability to pay to request information about their financial circumstances but if this information is not forthcoming then they can request this from other bodies, including the employer.
The CMS will look at a number of factors in deciding how much maintenance should be paid. These include the gross weekly income of the paying parent, the number of children for whom maintenance needs to be paid, whether there are other relevant children (namely whether the paying parent or their partner has other children for whom they receive child benefit), whether care is shared and whether there are any other special and relevant circumstances.
There are four different rates applied to child maintenance depending on the paying party's financial situation and currently the percentages which are applied by the CMS are not clearly specified on their website. On that basis it would be sensible to use the calculator at http://www.cmoptions.org/en/calculator/ to see what is payable.